Monday, February 18, 2013

The Vagabond Loop Part 3: Denver to ABQ, and the GET

The Vagabond Loop is very important to me. However, sometimes the theme of the VL does not make sense in the straight-forward glance of topography, cultures, and biospheres. The similarity between the AZT, HT, and the GET is apparent while the CT sticks out like a sore thumb. My point of hiking the VL is not so obvious. Some years ago, say 10-12, I pitched an idea to my buddies Habit and Conch about a book I‘d like to write, then maybe one day, far down the line, turn the pages into an independent film. The idea was whimsical but the essence behind it still holds true for me: human connection and the random intersections of wavelengths. The basis of the story was a random, powerful occurrence of human connection of four vastly different individuals with vastly different stories making their way through arduous journeys to reach the Four Corners monument at exactly the same time only to find some understanding in the mad, mad world and within themselves. The four individuals followed random, but meaningful signs or paths, both metaphysical and actual, through innate human feeling, trusting their gut, to find each other in that one ultimate moment. And that is a driving theme for me within the VL: synchronicity, everything you have ever done leading up to that one moment. The Southwest holds this mystery for me amid my driven wanderer type of character. I see something in this loop more than just the obvious. Ruess saw it, Abbey too. Tempest Williams describes it eloquently; Fayhee details it in grumpy, fiery printed words. The Navajos lived within the mystery, the Utes as well. The Mexicans stormed around the land caught up in the spell of the wild. Scouts, like Carson and Walker, leaders of men like Fremont and Escalante, explorers like the one-armed General Powell, they too observed the swirling lure of the vortex. And me, I am enrapt within the great mystery of the Southwest ever pushing me farther away, farther towards that one moment…

I rant because of the validity of the Loop. There is a huge predicament in connecting the CT and the GET. I have to piece together a route that is not so obvious through mountain ranges smothered with huge private ranches and the lack of a long trail in an expedient matter. Initially, I wanted the quickest way possible from Denver to Albuquerque, a straight-shot whether by dirt roads, trails, and the occasional paved road. I knew I could traverse the Sangre de Cristos in Colorado and in the Taos area all the way down to Santa Fe. But that left a huge gap between La Veta Pass south of the Sangres and the town of Red River in northern New Mexico. I figured I could piece the gap by paved roads and just bang out the miles in order to ‘hurry’ to the GET. Only after reaching out to Brett Tucker, inventor of the GET and expert on the Southwest, via the Simblissity website, did I realize the magnitude of the VL and how much I value the mark I leave on the actions and plans I exhibit and do. I came to the conclusion within my planning process that I was treating this connection like it was not meaningful to me. Funny, how much tunnel vision I was experiencing in trying to connect the four trails in a ‘slog-fest’ manner that I was inadvertently going to possibly de-value my experience of hiking the VL. After all, I was getting feedback from an inventor of hiking routes, someone who has established a trail/route that others have hiked and will hike. And I had to re-think the way I was tackling the VL. I never thought of the VL as route I was establishing that one day maybe others would hike; the VL is my own personal goal, mission. However, I want to leave my mark.

Brett broke me out of my driven, narrow-minded trance with this paragraph:

"I think it's one thing to do a long hike, get a great deal out of it, and use it to inspire others. But one way to make the rewards even greater is when you fashion a route that is worth hiking twice, or better still, that others will want to hike. The momentum that builds from developing a genuine long-distance hiking experience for the masses is something that can be transcendent, legacy-worthy even. So it's with this in mind that I at first questioned your plan to walk hundreds of miles on roads down the front range. With so much more available to you, it just seemed like a bit of wasted potential to essentially write off several weeks of the trip as a "get it done with as quickly as possible" style slog-fest."

I delved, and currently am continuing so, into maps and research in order to find an attractive route. I am investigating trail connections, and not just dirt road connections. Scouring through maps I have managed to find that I have to backtrack on the CT for approximately 30m to the junction with Goose Creek Trail in the Tarryall Mountains. The Goose Creek Trail intersects with the mountain bike route of the CT at Goose Creek Road, then weaves its way south along Matukat and Tarryall Roads into the hovel of Lake George where I can have a re-supply option. From Lake George I’ll take a southwesterly course along forest roads through Pike NF and San Isabel NF. Nothing attractive nor trail intensive in this area but it is imperative I go through this way to hit Salida and the northern swell of the Sangre de Cristos. The trail town of Salida will prove to be a pivotal re-supply point. It is a long solid stretch along the Rainbow Trail that traverses the Sangre de Cristo range. Roughly 85m I will roller-coaster up and down pine-forested ridgelines and in and out of drainages on rocky tread and tumble out near La Veta Pass. After finding my way through checkerboard BLM land by dirt roads I’ll eventually intercept Indian Creek Trail in the Culebra Range. I will need to have a re-supply option in this area, most likely Red Wing or Cuchara, and I am in the process of finding one that’ll work.

Here is where the connection of the VL gets tricky. Three large, and I mean expansive, ranches lay claim to the lofty summits of the Culebra Range in southern Colorado all the way to the Carson NF in New Mexico. Cielo Vista Ranch will be the first ranch I meet, if I am allowed to access their land. The ranch offers climbing opportunities of the 14,000ft. Culebra Peak for $100 in the summer months. Further south the high elevation ridges separate the Rio Costilla Ranch and the Vermejo Park Ranch, the latter being owned by media mogul, land baron and eco-conservationist Ted Turner and extends thousand of acres all the way to Interstate 25. Dirt roads look like they lead to a connective point along a crest within the Carson NF. The route leading to that area is hard to research but I hope communication with the ranch managers will allow permission to access the private ranches, first and foremost, and help me find a quick and efficient way through the property. These ranches are exclusive hunting ranches, which offer hunters magnificent hunting opportunities for a hefty fee, and pampered cattle grazing among managed land with ample green grass providing people with high-end, pricey beef. I am currently working with a former co-worker from MCC, Cliff Kipp, to formulate a letter to send to the 3 massive ranches to request permission to cross their land in a responsible Leave No Trace ethics sort of way. I see this as a land-grant proposal and to instill the brain of Cliff will be a big help for me. This gap in the VL is a work in progress and details will come later as to the inter-workings of land management and public usage.

All I do know, at some point from somewhere, I will be trekking south from Red River NM. Brett Tucker established the 500m Northern New Mexico Loop in 2012. I will follow his pioneered path from Red River to the outskirts of Santa Fe. His eastern portion of the NNM Loop scampers over Wheeler Peak, the highest point in NM, and mainly follows the spine of the Sangre de Cristos along trail sometimes rambling through mountain meadows vocalized by babbling brooks and speckled by large aspen stands. I am researching a route between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, most likely through a railroad corridor and dusty roads, to attain the eastern terminus of the GET. Bridging the gap in totality between Denver and Albuquerque will be in the range of 400-450m.

I am enamored with New Mexico. I have been even before my crossing of the state last year while on the CDT. The people, the food, and the high peaks springing up amid high-altitude mesas polka-dotted with the fragrant juniper tree. The spirit of the wild, scenic beauty, desert ghost towns, and vast, gigantic skies all highlight my love affair with NM. Brett Tucker laid a proven, definitive route connecting the metropolises of Albuquerque and Phoenix through this area. Defined by his ‘hike-invention’ innovative mind he pieced the GET with interlinking trails, dirt roads, water drainages and canyons, and some overland cross-country rambles.

The GET is roughly 700m that roams through remote wildernesses and the occasional dusty town. Over half of the 700m is on trail tread and is alluring for this quality as the GET’s bigger brother, the CDT, has more road travel than the GET. Brett’s route also flows between water sources efficiently to make the burden of lack of water less stringent. Since his route follows canyon corridors, such as Aravaipa Canyon, and the Eagle and Bonita Creeks, branching the terrain between the drainages with wells and earthen cattle tanks is of utmost importance. These canyons and gulches provide an oasis with large cottonwoods and beautiful sycamores to sit and cool down. Despite a dry appearance and folksy tales of dehydration this arid land has a healthy bounty of hidden water sources. Luckily for me, Brett has the route planned for these important water sources.

Now, I will be venturing on the GET sometime in late July and early August. I asked Brett about my timing of hiking the GET during this timeframe and he believes my timing will be in concurrence with the monsoon swell drifting over the New Mexican high plains which means a possible surplus of precious water. The months I plan to be there will be the hotter months but the higher elevations and river canyons of the GET will alleviate the rising temperature in my favor for cooler temperatures. At some point this summer, I will be back in Gila Country this time meandering down the lazy West Fork of the Gila River. I am looking forward to this moment, not only to see how the forest looks from the massive forest fire that ravaged the land last year and charred the tall ponderosa standing guard over the land, but to re-experience, to re-feel, to have that one second back in the electric wilderness, where the Gila wilderness first entered my dreams as a wild, untamed, neon blue-eyed wilderness vixen; for she is real, not just in my dreams but within each skin-pricked swollen pore letting me know that life is for real, that life is precious and worth doing…

The GET hops from the high peaks of the Sandia Range looming above Albuquerque to another 13 mountain ranges, such as the Mogollon and Magdalena Mountains, with a multitude of diversity of flora and fauna. Between these sky islands the GET portages not only the canyons I mentioned but high altitude mesas. Ultimately, I will re-connect with the AZT to form the complete circle of the Vagabond Loop. I’ll probably pause, maybe take a nap and relish in my hard work, then re-group and finish the 3,500m circuitous loop in the city of Phoenix.

With the route description explained with plans laid to change, my final VL preparations will include training and gear testing. I will be on the 96m White Rim Trail in Canyonlands NP next week hardening my feet, guts, and mind as well as mentally visualizing my adventure around the great Southwest.









  1. Wow - great stuff, DM. I don't know, but maybe there's a way to craft that letter to the ranches such that the door might open in perpetuity for hikers that might follow you. A permit proposal might work, though of course there's a short-term advantage in just reaching out as one individual with one simple request. If nothing else, your efforts will gauge their receptivity, and perhaps you could share that with us after, privately at least. Good luck choosing your words in advance of your deeds!

    1. A little bit tougher than I thought but pluggin away. Plus I met some really cool FS people so far in my phone conversations!